Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's Going to Happen Here?

Yesterday, I listened to Bruce Judson discuss his book, It Could Happen Here on the Leonard Lopate Show on WQXR (NY's NPR station). Judson's book theorizes that America's growing income disparity (the cancerous democracy-killer that no one in our nation wants to talk about), could bring about an environment of extreme political instability. Layer in the toxic anti-government discourse that is so prevalent today, and Judson claims that revolution and / or secession are not outside the realm of possibility.

I have long been troubled by America's growing income disparity. Did you know that during the Reagan years....the Gordon Gecko years, mind you, - the average CEO made about 50 times the compensation that the average worker earned? Do you know what that ratio is now? About 450 to 1. I realize this is an isolated metric but I think it is fair to say that such a measure is indicative of what has become a self-congratulatory culture within corporate America. Maybe the Apocalypse presented by Judson is unrealistic but when we discuss the root cause of our culture wars and tenuous economic prospects, why is no one discussing income disparity?

In the 1930's, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can't Happen Here. I first read this about six years ago when we were in the heart of the Bush Years. In this novel, reason and democracy have been commandeered by a megalomaniac populist who arrives under the guise of folksy small-town patriotism but eventually gravitates towards totalitarianism (PALIN!....sorry all - just slipped out). Why did I read this book during Dubya's reign? Because sometimes it feels good to feel bad. We were heading into a disastrous war and voices of dissent were being dismissed (at best) and at worst, being shouted down as unpatriotic.


America has an obsession with the end of times. We love to watch the train smash into the unsuspecting parked car. It's a kind of disaster porn, for a lack of a better phrase. Now when I go on Amazon.com, the rave reviews of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here come from right wing voices claiming Lewis' anti-tyranny message speaks for them. After all, under the Obama administration, they now feel as though they are living under an oppressive regime.

I'll say this - I was wrong if I ever said, during the Bush years, that I lived under tyranny. The past year has made me realize that Americans are ignorantly culpable of claiming tyranny while we live in the freest, most fortunate nation on the planet. No matter what we think of what's happening in Washington, we should get down on our knees every day and thank our Creator that we are Americans. A dangerous vein has entered our national discourse, fueled by millionaires who sit in little boxes broadcasting venom on AM radio. Such porn gets further bolstered by that blubbering, nonsensical fat man on Fox News who inconceivably has captivated an immeasurable amount of attention this past year.

Americans have become careless with the word 'tyranny'. Richard Ford put it best in the Times opinion pages last Sunday. We have become "dangerously ambivalent and inattentive. We define life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as our right to bury our noses hubristically in our personal lives and public irrelevance."

I don't believe that any of the dire predictions of Lewis or Judson loom in our horizon. But never in my lifetime have words like 'secession' been used so casually in this country.

A word about the new Slimbo's Shelf banner...


You notice a new title for Slimbo's Shelf. This is a screen grab from Google Maps, taken on the corner of Winchester Road and Kirby Parkway in Memphis, Tennessee. I spend a lot of time on Google Map's street views in Memphis. I'm writing a novel about Memphis right now and when I get stalled (which is often), I go to Google's street views and essentially let my mind meander.

This view shocked me as the rather extraordinary statue you see on the right was not there when I lived there (granted that was almost two decades ago). This statue is on the grounds of an enormous arena of a mega-church. The statue is (from the photo) about sixty feet high. On the base of the statue an inscription reads: "America, turn back to God".

But does that mean you can still turn into the Shoney's across the street?

Some housekeeping

The Federal Trade Commission has established new rules for bloggers. Essentially, what this means is that I need to disclose if Slimbo is compensated whenever I discuss any book, film or product of any kind.

Here's the deal folks. I don't get jack from anybody. Even when I get published in newspapers, I don't get a dime. In fact, I've never, never, ever been compensated for writing anything, anywhere, anytime. Bodes well for the novel I'm writing doesn't it?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brad Van Pelt

This Christmas, I got my son an Eli Manning #10 jersey and it appears he plans to wear it until he leaves for college. But it also made me take a moment and remember Brad Van Pelt who passed away earlier this year. With all due respects to Manning, the Giants should have retired #10 a long time ago.

In the 1970's the New York Giants were a complete disaster. Van Pelt was the stepping stone between 15 years of misery and the foundation of success that they've tenuously sustained since the mid-80's. I started to love the team in the late 70's, a dark time for Big Blue. Van Pelt was their lone superstar, a label I'm not sure he liked as he seemed a humble hard-working grunt. Van Pelt also changed the character of the team. They were once the Madison Avenue marquees of the Gifford Fifties. But with Van Pelt the team began to morph into blue collar tough guys bellied in the swamps of Jersey. I suppose he was the first sports hero I called my own and along with Harry Carson, my favorite all-time Giant.
Thanks goes out to The True Blue Review for the photo.

Giants Stadium

Today is the last regular season game that the New York Giants are going to play at Giants Stadium. The way the season has been going, if they make the playoffs at all, I doubt they'd play any games at home. So today is it.



I spent perhaps too much time on this blog dwelling on the demise of Shea Stadium and when I did, I was too swayed by the voices who found it easy to trash Shea's ugliness and quickly sing Citi Field's praises. The truth is, that the new Meadowlands stadium, which will also house the New York Jets, embodies all that I've now come to dislike about Citi Field.

The beauty of Shea and Giants Stadium was in their egalitarian treatment of the fan. Whether you were a banker or a teacher, whether you were a conductor of a symphony or a subway, Shea treated everyone the same. The same holds true for Giants Stadium and unlike Shea's questionable viewing inconveniences, Giants Stadium was a wonderful place to see a game. I have sat in its best seats and I have sat in its worst seats. There is not one bad seat in the house.

Like Citi Field, this new stadium will feature dozens of segmented seating options. These are meant to cater to the corporate ticket holder who is most likely in attendance thanks to the large TARP-recipiant financial services firm that employs him. The common man who is looking to take his kid to a game has been left behind. Stadia now prioritize seating to accommodate sections with leather seats, a wait staff and sushi. Our grandfathers would laugh themselves silly at what we have become.

And of course there are the personal seat licenses. (For those of you who do not follow the NFL and the godless entity it's become, I ask you to sit down. In order to have the opportunity to purchase season tickets, fans must pay a personal seat license. Oh, it costs about $25,000.00 or so)

Goodbye old friend. You will be missed. I'd hoped I wouldn't have had to write such a bitter farewell.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays


Slimbo's Shelf wishes you and yours a happy and safe holiday season. Talk to you soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Isles Beat Rangers, 2-1!


I quote Herman Blume from Rushmore: "...take dead aim on the rich ones. Get them in the crosshairs ...and take them down."

Sleepless Days

It's hard to find any information about Jurek Becker's Sleepless Days. Usually, a Google through the interwebs on any book of choice will yield a good deal of information, some good, some...not so good. But this is not the case when I was looking to get some background on Sleepless Days.

This story chronicles a crisis in the life of an East German schoolteacher. An unidentifiable health episode descends Karl Simlock into a kind of life-upending transformation. He quits his job, his family and everything that anchors his daily routine: "I have led my whole life so far as if the genuinely important things were still to come. I have been waiting for the door to be opened behind which the action is taking place. I never asked myself whose hand is supposed to turn the doorknob."

Becker's Simlock is experiencing a crisis anyone in middle age can relate to. Yet, because Simlock's episode is partly caused by the restrictive world of East Germany, I found it difficult to pinpoint Becker's motives behind Sleepless Days. Was Becker trying to portray the existential trauma of one man (any man) or was the screaming desperation laid out by Simlock, a metaphor for the frustrations all East Germans felt living in the GDR's crushing banality and marginalized anonymity?

Either way, this is a beautiful book and I am shocked that it flies so far below the radar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Second Favorite Brendan

I.


Today, while visiting the city of Philadelphia before his team, the New York Islanders, were to take on the Philadelphia Flyers, Islanders defender Brendan Witt was hit by a truck. After this transgression occurred, Witt got up, dusted himself off and headed back to the arena to get ready for the game.

Of course, as I write this post the Islanders are losing 6-2 to the Flyers, so perhaps Witt should have sought medical assistance. Still, that's a man who's got a pair of stones, my friends.


II.

In other sporting news, it would appear that the United States' first game in the 2010 World Cup will be against Her Majesty's Collection of Dysfunctional Overpaid Footballers. Here's the bracket for Group C:


Of course, the British press is salivating over the prospects that their nation's team is a shoe-in to advance to the second round, lumping a victory over us as trying a task as defeating Algeria and Slovenia. Keep talking chaps...keep talking. Their boisterous posturing at the expense of my home nation's dignity has really gotten my Irish up. As you faithful of Slimbo's Shelf know, I am not one to submit to moronic American jingoism, but until our beloved Screaming Eagles lay the three lionesses to rest in South Africa, I am considering a boycott of all things English (and you Shelf readers ALSO know that I am an unrepentant Anglophile).

Boycott list includes:
  1. Tea
  2. Bass Ale
  3. Kingsley Amis and Nick Hornby
  4. Beatles, Stones and the Kinks
  5. Rachel Weisz (and this one hurts!)
  6. English Premier League (will only watch Tim Howard, Everton Keeper, only the greatest on the planet!)
  7. Monty Python
  8. Granta Literary Magazine
  9. Nigella Lawson (see lament re: Rachel Weisz above)
  10. BBC World News at 9am
  11. When Saturday Comes (footie magazine)
  12. Being polite and ironic
III.

Lastly, the Giants beat the monkey out of the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday....ah, that felt good.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The List Master

Summer is the season most aligned with book reading. I, on the other hand, get no time in the summer to read, for good reasons as our family is usually hoping about in the sun chasing some fun activity or another.

So Winter is my time to buckle down and hit the books. This time of year, I excitedly form my list of books I plan on tackling as the days grow short and the wind whips through the barren branches:

1. The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby - The list master himself. I'm into this one right now - it's a series of Hornby's contributed columns from Believer. Hornby breaks down a year in his life and tells you about the books he's bought and read. But this work is more about his love of books and the act of book buying and book obsessing.

Upcoming reads:

2. The Black Book, Ian Rankin. It's Edinburgh, it's dark, damp and cranky. Not a book for sunny beaches and rum drinks with those little umbrellas in them.
3. Sleepless Days, Jurek Becker. An East German schoolteacher is confronted with his own mortality - am I in heaven or what?
4. The Black Prince, Iris Murdoch. For my birthday, I bought myself a used 1973 first-edition hardcover in great condition. I plan on wearing white cotton gloves as I read this.
5. Chekhov - Selected Stories. It's winter so oh, yes...there will be Chekhov. The greatest writer that ever lived IMHO - a fine doctor too. I have at least three different Chekhov short story anthologies. They're like paper towels - if I see them, I buy them because I can't live without them.
6. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth. I know, I know - I've never read it. I'm only human.
7. Airframe, Michael Crighton. A good friend gave me this to read because I work with airplanes. Too bad the late Crighton aligned himself with the crazies toward the end.
8. The Finest Stories of Padraic O'Conaire, Again...it's the whole damp cold thing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Today


Today's my birthday and I'll leave it to you to figure out how old I've become. This is the year. Yup. This is the one I do all the bullshit - write the book, run the (half) marathon.
Love to all - you who check in from time to time. I appreciate the traffic and hope you get a kick, an insight or at least a diversion when you visit.
Sorry my posts have become a bit thin (or dare I say 'slim') lately. Truth is I am working on a n_vel (I won't let myself actually say the word). And this n_vel project is sucking the gravitational force away from blogging. But fear not. I'll still be here - to pester, annoy and kvetch as only I know how.
With love,
Slimbo

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Healthiest US States

Check this out: Forbes Magazine published an article listing the healthiest US States. Rankings were based on things like obesity, smoking, cancer deaths, etc. Slimbo's Shelf is here to help you break down the results:

The healthiest (top 5):
1. Vermont - Now I'm actually kind of surprised here. I once spent a week in Vermont in the dead of July. It never got above 50 degrees and the sun came up at 9:30am and promptly set at 4:00pm. How do you stay healthy while freezing in a log cabin drinking syrup eleven months out of the year?
2. Utah - This isn't fair. They have Mormons. Those people don't drink, they don't smoke. Not fair....just not fair.
3. Massachusetts - I'm sorry. I really don't get this one. Between the years 1990 and 2000, I visited Boston about twenty times. And during each visit, every inhabitant I encountered was binge drinking. All of them.
4. Hawaii - I'm surprised Hawaii wasn't #1. My in-laws live on the island of Oahu and I get there about once a year. Every. Day. The. Weather. Is. Beautiful. The air is fresh and the ocean awaits. If I lived there, I'd be a bronzed surfing god...really I would.
5. New Hampshire - You've seen the license plates. "Live Healthy or Die". 'Bout sums it all up, doesn't it.

And now...the bottom five:
46. South Carolina - "YOU LIE!!" No, Addison Wilson III, we don't lie. Maybe fighting health care reform that might enhance preventative medicine isn't such a bad idea, huh?
47. Louisiana - now this isn't fair. They have Bourbon Street. That'll throw off the curve, won't it? And think of everything they had to go through Post-Katrina. Give these folks a break, I say.
48. Alabama - ever been to a Skynard concert? Me neither.
49. Oklahoma - kind of surprised here. I always think of Oklahoma as the diet-Texas. Texas Lite.
50. Mississippi - Fun to spell, lousy to visit. I should like to point out that from a civic legislation standpoint, two of the bottom five are best known for exerting inordinate amounts of energy keeping the confederate flag as their state flag. Just sayin'.

My home state? New York - #25. Middle of the curve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather

When I was growing up, my family moved a few times. The town I live in now just happens to be where I lived between the time I was six and thirteen. I didn't specifically seek to reclaim this place. My wife and I were expecting our second child and our apartment just wasn't going to work. I made it my quest that I would buy the first house I could afford and it just happened to be here.


- - The town has changed a great deal. It was once composed of almost exclusively working-class Irish and Italian families. Now though, due to its close proximity to New York, it's become somewhat gentrified with young, professional yuppie families, I guess, like my own. The small homey movie theatre where I saw E.T., is now a film arts center and the corner newsstand where my brother and I bought baseball cards and comics has become a fashion optical store. The ancient timber box church we'd once attended has been bulldozed and rebuilt.

- - But amid this makeover, I may find some artifact, a sign that's been left unchanged, a store that's been utterly unchanged through three decades. And in these small pockets I feel a transformative rush and a dizzying sensation of being neither in the present nor in the past.

In the title story of Gao Xing Jian's Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather, the narrator is reminiscing about his youth as he makes his way through the town where he grew up. He has bought his grandfather a new fishing rod, a sort of prolonged replacement for one he broke as a child. But as he walks, this man is disoriented by the lack of familiar landmarks. Amid all that is unfamiliar, he is devastated by the absence of a vast lake he once knew: "...I never imagined that the fish would all die, that the sparkling lake would turn into a foul pond, that the foul pond would be filled in, and that I would not be able to find the way to my old home."

- - If I've learned anything, it's that your old home is gone. Unlike this narrator, I can easily find my old house. It still stands, renovated and expanded. But it's gone. I can stand on its front lawn for hours. But it will never come back and that time, like all time, is gone forever. The danger of nostalgia, and the danger of my living here, is that all around me lurks the narcotic possibility of losing my foothold in reality and becoming lost in something that exists only in ether. If I find myself heading down that path as I drive to work, stop into the dry cleaners, or walk my children to school, I have to keep this refrain: 'open your eyes'.

- - The rest of the stories in this book are sparse, delicately paced and filled with people lost in a world of their emotions. The spector of the Cultural Revolution hangs over all these characters. Everyone deals with their emotional lives with great trepidation, perhaps remembering the time when emotional lives were effectively bulldozed and forbidden, or like the aforementioned lake, filled in and unrecognizable.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jazz Loft - Revisited

Some time ago here on Slimbo's Shelf, I'd expressed my frustration that The Jazz Loft, a treasure trove of tapes compiled by Eugene Smith, had been unfairly squirreled away by some ambiguous academic powers that be.

My ire is derived by my love of jazz and my obsession with artifacts. Here appeared to be a veritable treasure trove of recordings capturing not just some music which spontaneously erupted from this oasis of creativity, but a time capsule snaring the sights, sounds and textures of 1950's and 60's New York.

Well, apparently WNYC will be presenting incremental pieces from Smith's tapes. Hallelujah.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Parade

Now, don't get me wrong.

I'm all for hyperbolic displays of patriotism.

But why is the eagle-as-Patton flag displayed behind Mariano Rivera? I mean, this is an image normally seen as perhaps a translucent decor on the back window of a redneck's pickup truck. Why is it on the Yankees' parade float? Don't get me wrong - not complaining...just saying it's a bit out of context.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yankees Win!

To all my Yankee-loving Shelf readers, I offer you sincere congratulations on your 27th Championship.

Your highest payroll roster in its democracy-crushing new stadium did a hell of a lot better than my team did, with its second highest payroll roster playing in its own democracy-crushing stadium.

Pitchers and catchers report in....about 92 days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Children's Books

As a book-loving father of two, Slimbo spends a lot of time reading children's books. These generally run the gambit between likable and enormously unlikeable without too much in between. My formula for a good children's book is simple: (1) not too long, (2) beautiful or at least engaging artwork, (3) humor and (4) not preachy.

Let's get right into it.

GOOD - Best Friends for Frances - by Russell Hoban. Frances' friend Albert is a gluttonous chauvinist and she puts him right in his place. Go girl! This one takes some time to get through, but it's well worth it.


BAD - Berenstein Bears - Father Bear is an idiot, Brother and Sister Bear are unlikable brats and Mother Bear is an insufferable, preachy shrew. Ah, suburban dyspepsia reaches even into the animal kingdom.




GOOD - Louie by Ezra Jack Keats. Anything by Ezra Jack Keats is beautiful. His combination of collage and painting beautifully capture a child's emotional landscape in the inner city. Louie is a simple, gentle story showing how children can treat each other decently.


BAD - Once Upon a Potty, Alona Frankel. Joshua gets a new potty. Yes, wonderful, Joshua. Joshua uses his new potty. Now, Joshua loves his new potty and he uses it every time. Joshua is 42, overweight and still lives with his mother. When we were potty training my son I had to read this damn book every night for months. Painful. I swear to God if I ever meet Joshua, I'm going to punch him in his fat stupid face.


GOOD - Angelina Ballerina - Katherine Holabird. Beautifully illustrated tale about a girl (mouse) who simply loves to dance. It's nice to see Angelina in her youthful, exuberant days before she grows up, moves to New York City to audition with Alvin Ailey, whereupon she lives for months on coffee, saltines and cigarettes. Later, she'll just become the waifish girlfriend of a Russian mobster-mouse wallowing away in some apartment in Howard Beach. Poor Angelina.


BAD - Anything from the Strawberry Shortcake series. You wanna go on a diet? Read these books. You'll never order desert again in your life. I go into diabetic shock every time my daughter pulls this out of her book stack. Disgusting. Berry, berry disgusting.


GOOD - Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey. This is the way I would want to write a children's book. Sprawling, nonsensical borderline profane goofiness. Farting. Wedgies. Awesome.

BAD - Skippy Jon Jones - by Judy Schachner . A Siamese cat with big ears thinks he's a chiuaua. A bad Mexican accent follows. These books are dense with deprecating Spanglish. Do NOT gift this book to any Latino family - they will rightfully smash you over the head with it.


GOOD - Who's Got the Apple by Jan Loof. A prize-winning apple makes it's way through a town via a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. By the end, the apple ends up right where it belongs. (If you look closely at the last page, there's a panoramic illustration of the town where you can make out the exasperated school principal heading into a bar. Nice.)

AWFUL - Merry Thanksgiving - A family are having all their relatives over for Thanksgiving. These idiots then decide to wait until the morning of Thanksgiving to go shopping. Mom loses her shopping list. Then that genius she married suggests this: "we'll just wait until the whole family gets here, then we'll get the recipes from them..", thus making him the most unhelpful jackass in all the annuls of fiction. It starts to snow...bad. The house is packed and they end up not cooking a damn thing. But then Santa arrives with all their food - cooked, trimmings and all. Nice job, Santa. I'm sure that bankrupt soup kitchen downtown will figure out something in this blizzard.



Ehhh...GOOD I guess: What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins. A little girl tells you about her day in a beautifully paced, gentle voice. But the parents in this book are just SOOOOOOOOO boho-Park Slope Brooklyn chic. You know what, I don't need a children's book to tell me what a predictable, uncool, unlikable suburban schnook I've become.


BAD - Snowball Fight by Jimmy Fallon. Man, I hate it when celebrities write children's books. I mean, God forbid we give a book deal to a real, struggling writer when we can whore ourselves for an extra buck or two? Adam Stower illustrated this book whose text I'd estimate it took Fallon all of seven minutes to write. Seriously, this is an excerpt: "Snowball fight! Snowball, snowball, snowball fight!" Wish I was kidding.


GREAT - The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. What's important in life? This book helps us through that question and the watercolors absolutely take my breath away. Pick it up now before Romney/Palin take over in 2012 and send bootjack teabaggers to your house to beat you senseless for owning a book by Tolstoy.


What's your favorite children's book?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ghost Ships - Part 4.

This first shot baffles me. These ships bear a real scary skeletal appearance. Again (like Baltimore), you have to ask - how long does something like this sit in a heavily populated urban harbor (near Offerman Park in Brooklyn)?



This is down in Brownsville, Texas where a series of facilities exist to dismantle ships. Here they seem to be taking apart an old naval cruiser:


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Live Blogging - 9:50pm EST

Okay. Here's how it is.

The Islanders have beaten the Rangers 3-1 at the Nassau Coliseum. Stick it to the man, I say!

Furthermore, it's very late and I'm letting my baseball-crazed 7 year-old son stay up very late to watch Game One of the World Series. Does this make me a bad father? Thanks to Chase Utley - Phillies are up 2-0.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2012

So we're all gonna die in 2012, right?

Oh, you didn't hear about this one?

Well, silly, in case you're behind things, Hollywood's special effects crap machine is about to release a multi-million dollar film about the world coming to an end. It's called '2012'. Watch the trailer, especially if you've been having a good day you'd like ruined.

Why is the world coming to an end? Why not? - I say.

Yes - 2012. The year it all goes ppphhuhhtt. Being an insomniac I catch a lot of 3am TV shows on the History Channel about the various prophesies that predict mankind will perish in 2012. Apparently, the world of crazy is hot to trot on this idea.

But why 2012? Surely there must be some empirical scientific evidence leading to this very dire conclusion. Right? WEEELLLLL, not exactly.

The interweb/television crap juggernaut have been sold on the idea that the Mayans devised a calendar that concluded with all earthly life ending in December 2012. The Mayans? You mean those guys who thought they had to carve out living, beating human hearts to make the sun rise? Yup, those guys. Ah, okay. Got it.

Everyday Americans toil with the unavoidable reality that our lives are going to be worse than the lives of our parents. Hollywood, a corporate arm of the corporate plague that keeps us down, exists to distract us from this awful reality. Usually they take to this task with a Vince Vaughn / Jennifer Aniston formulaic romantic-comedy brain-death. But here, they've created a film to help you soil your pants with the notions of an improbable end to tomorrow rather than letting you tangibly look at the reality of the now.

I suppose I'd break it down like this: as the 20th Century unfolded, mankind became deftly able to eliminate itself through nuclear Armageddon. Naturally, this is a scary thought, so we're conjuring celestial events like this 2012 nonsense to alieve ourselves of the responsibility that if the world explodes, it's our fault.

So shop for 2012's Christmas. Imagine the alternative:

"Honey, I love it."
"Do you?"
"Well, yeah...but...it's not my size."
"Yeah, I know - you see...it's just that I thought the world was going to come to an end...and when it didn't...there were no more left in your size."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghost Ships - Part 3, Baltimore

These are in Curtis Bay in Baltimore harbor. Amazing that such a smattering of wreckage can be found in a modern busy city's waterspace.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Photograph


"A stone has been cast into the reliable, immutable pond of the past, and as the ripples subside, everything appears different."

What's the point of digging up the past? Occasionally on this blog, I'll unearth some artifact from my youth. These are usually photographs of Memphis or some odd paperwork or letter that's resurfaced from the abyss of my cluttered closet. I occupy an indefinable space with these things and I let them haunt me. From lost time, they begin to elicit questions and it is the impossible task of answering these questions that I write about here. If I've learned anything, it's that the past is a viper pit, an endless path of unanswerable questions down which one can become utterly lost. This is what lost time is all about - descending into that which has been vanquished but wanting it all to suddenly make sense.

So does it do any good to dig up the past? In Penelope Lively's The Photograph, the answer is decidedly 'no'. Glyn is a widower, an professor of archeology, who happens upon a photograph of his late wife in an embrace with her sister's husband. It is clear to Glyn for the first time that his wife, Kath, had been unfaithful.

But what does Glyn do? Does he discard the photograph and relieve himself, his sister and brother-in-law of this emotional quandary? Well, being an archaeologist, an academic sort who lives in a world of piecing, somewhat unemotionally, the past - he begins to dissect this mystery. Ultimately his process inflicts more harm into the lives of all involved that it was probably worth.
As I am often my own worst archaeologist, I felt an unease as I read on and on in this book. Each character has his or her own unravelling as a result of this photograph's unearthing. This is almost half mystery, half character study and an amazing, unforgettable book.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whitestone Ghost Ship

This wreck can be seen when you're on the Bronx side of the Whitestone Bridge (looking west). It's incredible that in a busy New York City waterway, something this big can lie abandoned for so long. If anyone knows the story behind this ship, I'd be very curious to hear it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ghost Ships

These are a couple of pictures I snagged off of Bing Maps. I'm pretty sure if you click on these, a larger picture will come up.


I don't know the name of this ship (it looks like a ferry of some sort). It's located on the Delaware River in downtown Philadelphia, just north of where Spring Garden and Columbus meet. I saw this last weekend when I was dropping my wife off at a baby shower taking place in one of the brand new luxury towers incongruously placed right next to this relic. There's an interesting contrast in this shot - the looming tower of luxury starting to eclipse the decaying craft:




This second one is the late SS Aquarama, taken in Buffalo, probably around 2005. This vessel was a troop ship during WWII and then was converted into a cruiser on the Great Lakes. Click here to learn more about the late Aquarama (from Forgotten Buffalo).


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The UFL

Some months back, when The Shelf shared its commentary on the old, long forsaken USFL, little did I know that we’d see the return of yet another attempt at professional football, the UFL. The UFL is like the USFL-lite - they're only four teams. Honest to goodness, who in their right mind thinks that these things are a good idea?

So here we go:

California Redwoods. I’m trying to recall a time when a team was named after a plant and I’m coming up dry. You have to look at this logo a long time to make out the R it attempts to portray. It looks as though one of Braveheart’s loyal men attempted to shield himself from Zorro the Gay Blade…oh yes, and Zorro’s using a Black & Decker router instead of a blade.

Florida Tuskers. Here we have Orlando’s team, so let's all get Disney! And fitting too, that their logo features The Lion King’s Pumbaa, only now he’s hopped up on meth readying himself for another signature Florida home invasion.


Las Vegas Locos. We should begin by noting that Locos here is short for Locomotives. Because when you think Vegas you think trains, right? No? You think lapdances and gambling? Yeah...I suppose I do too. That said, my immediate reaction to this Loco Logo is that they are trying to convey the Spanish 'loco', being crazy. Now I know, I know, I know I’m supposed to see the front grill of an old timey locomotive engine here – but honestly…tell me you’re not thinking LA street gang when you see this?

New York Sentinels. I see this logo and all I can think of is Lego Knights. For a long time, my son was batshit for Lego Knights. We had them all – had the books and everything. The Green Knight’s name was Sir Rascus and he was the first one my son got. Now, my son is obsessed with baseball and Sir Rascus has gone the way of the partially disassembled, long forgotten toys, much like the New York Sentinels soon will be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Allman Joy

It recently only took a very brief stay in the Bronx for my Mazda to be relieved of its antenna. With my radio now neutered and spayed, I had to resort to the long neglected CD’s that have taken up permanent residence in my glove compartment.

This morning I was pleased to find these two live CD’s – The Allman Brothers Band, First Set and 2nd Set (thanks to ssshmaly for group photo above).








Since the early 1990’s, this band (one of the survivors from the late 60’s) has existed solely to continue their geriatric live performances. I have seen them three times. The first time was the summer of 1994 at Mud Island Amphitheatre in Memphis, TN. Great show - the duration of which I found myself shirtless and Icehouse-ed. The second time I saw them was Spring of 1995 at Radio City. I had strep throat and a fever. The third time I saw them was for one of their annual shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York City 1996.

The Allman Brothers are the perfect merger of blues, country, soul and R&B. Whereas Lynyrd Skynyrd (and other such folk) venture too far into the trailer park of rock-n-roll, the Allmans have always established that, although they are country boys, they are equally rooted in Miles Davis as they are Muddy Waters or Sonny Boy Williamson. There has always been a moody contemplative element to their music that has made them unique and has anchored my adoration.

I often wonder what would have happened had Duane Allman not died in 1971. I've mentioned him before on The Shelf. This question ranks up there with the many impossible questions that keep me awake at night (could America have been saved if Bobby Kennedy had lived?). Duane’s guitar work was beyond comparison and I don’t think this band ever got passed his loss. That said, Warren Haynes has been his fill in for their modern era and the man is an unfathomably good guitar player.

But thinking back to that third show I caught at the Beacon - it was weird. The crowd I recalled from my first Allmans show in Memphis were essentially drunk shit-kicking rednecks – good fun. But the crowd at the Beacon in ’96 – it seemed overrun with what I uncreatively label 'the Deadhead lot'. The place was floor to ceiling packed with tie-die suburban hippies, obliviously doing that weird gyrating hippie-shuffle I find so annoying.

Now I’ve just plain ol' never been able to get into the Grateful Dead. I’m sorry - I know I just don’t get it. And as a card carrying liberal who’d graduated from a secular northeastern college, I fully realize that I should have a whole host of Grateful Dead credentials, but I don’t. I’m sorry.

Furthermore, I have to say that I get a little kvetched when people lump the Allmans and the Dead into the same category. Granted, I know the Allman Brothers, like The Grateful Dead, are known for long jamming, somewhat meandering songs, but I really find a stark contrast between the two bands. Whereas The Dead seem to exist solely to be trippy, the Allmans are working a deeply meditative and soulful narrative. The Grateful Dead just have always sounded like they're rehearsing one long song that lasts for four decades. Sorry.

For the melancholic beauty of The Allman Brothers Band, I recommend these songs:

Dreams
Whipping Post
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Melissa
Please Call Home
Ain’t Wasting Time No More
Not my Cross to Bear

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Isles of Despair - Part 2

Well, Sports Illustrated have released their NHL predictions for the 2009-2010 season and low and behold the New York Islanders look to come in 15th in the Eastern Conference.

In other Islander related news – their owner Charles Wang (no offense) is pushing his Lighthouse Project. This is actually pretty interesting. The Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders’ current home, is widely considered to be a dump. Both the Islanders and I were born in the same year, a few miles apart. Since their inception, the Islanders have played at that coliseum which now is often referred to as the Nassau Mausoleum, both due to its age and the Islanders decrepit play as of late.

But Wang’s Lighthouse Project would refurbish the coliseum but more importantly, develop a dynamic urban center with self-sustaining housing and shops. I get giddy when I hear about stuff like this. I believe Americans should all live in small houses and drive small cars. If I had practical public transport, I’d prefer it to driving. I know many of my countrymen would label me anti-American for relaying affection for such Euro-aligned views, but so be it.

It’s just refreshing to see this type of change potentially coming to the place that was ground-zero for Robert Moses’ conformist suburban utopia that nearly killed urban America (highways as far as the eye can see, everyone in cars).
I hope this thing pans out. The team’s ability to stay in New York may depend on it. I’m sure the Lighthouse Project is going to get fierce resistance from Long Island hard-liners. To paraphrase one Long Island politician: “Mr. Wang shouldn’t tell us what to do with our town – and we won’t tell him when the Islanders need to start winning again.”

The Nassau Mausoleum, in it's current state:



It's Alright to Cry (thank you Rosey)

Have you ever seen former New York Giant / Los Angeles Ram great Rosey Grier singing ‘It’s Alright to Cry’ in the 1974 television special, Free to be…You and Me?

No? I suggest you do. I suggest you do so immediately. Really, I can’t recommend it enough.

Why did this television special come to be? Couldn't tell ya'. Much of television programming for children in the 1970’s seemed to acknowledge that we were all going through some sort of post-traumatic disorder. It’s okay…you can be you. You’ll get through this Just be you and I'll just be me.

Since rediscovering this clip, I can only say this - There's been an amorphous depressive existential malaise that's been following me since my early teens. I've tried to combat this through exercise or my career. No luck. Now though, I've added a new weapon to the war chest. To combat the blues, Rosy Grier's performance is now permanently bookmarked in my computer.
We should always be mindful of these beautiful lyrics:

It's alright to feel things
though the feelings may be strange
feelings such real things
and they change and change and change
(It's probably important to note that when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan...it was Rosey Grier who, while working as an aid to the Kennedy'68 campaign, apprehended the assassin).

Two Books - from England

An Academic Question - Barbara Pym - A woman supports her university professor husband, although she seeks some life of her own. She is the reluctant mother to a beautiful daughter (toddler) and she needs an au pair in order to maintain day-to-day sanity.

She eventually steals a research manuscript to further her husband's career. He, in turn, reciprocates by cheating on her. But this is academic England so there's no real need to blow up about it all. Our protagonist idly ponders old loves while weighing if it'd be proper to leave her husband.

Not much really happens in An Academic Question, so I can see why it eluded publication until after Pym's death. I would sum this book up as thus: entirely unlikable characters portrayed amid enormously likable writing.

Aiding and Abetting - Muriel Spark- Two men have entered the offices of psychiatrist Hildegard Wolf. Both men claim to be Lord Lucan, who in 1974, had brutally murdered his nanny thinking it was his wife. (His wife had also been attacked but survived and escaped). Lord Lucan escaped the scene, only to become the stuff of fugitive legend.
The murder itself is a true story, but Spark's brilliance is to place Lucen, and the Lucen impostor against this wonderful foil, the analyst Wolf. But here's the rub...Wolf herself is a fraud. She once fleeced pilgrims who believed she was a stigmatic phenomena. Just as the Lucens are on the run...so is she.

This was a really well constructed fun read. A nice condemnation of the English aristocracy that (really, in real life) had probably enabled the real Lucen to elude capture.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Our Bumbos Our Selves

Recently my kids received a Little Rascals / Our Gang DVD, which has been a delight to see. I’d loved these shorts as a kid and can recall watching them in the basement of our old Long Island home on our old black & white RCA. However, one of these shorts, The Kid from Borneo was one that I’d never seen before. Much to my kids' chagrin, I turned it off half-way.

Understandably (according to Wiki), this had been pulled from circulation in 1971. It portrays a “savage” named Bumbo, replete with spear, shield and bone-through-the-nose, played by African American actor, John Lester Johnson. The gang mistakes him for Spanky’s Uncle George, whom no one had ever met before. As the kids circle this mysterious wide eyed character, it’s Stymie (believe it or not) who’s given the line: “he looks like a gorilla ape.”

Bumbo then proceeds to chase the kids around, eating everything in sight. His only line is “Yum, yum, eat ‘em up, eat ‘em up!.”

Obviously, since this film was made in 1933, a bit of filtration needs to be considered when we discuss it. And I honestly know that my children’s laughter was derived from the slapstick action in the film and not from the negative stereotyping of a mentally ill, demeaned individual.

Later over the weekend, I sat my son down to talk to him about why I chose not to let him watch it. Granted, it’s near impossible to encapsulate race, discrimination and popular culture in a way that it can make sense to a seven year old, but I tried. I just said that at the time they made that film, African Americans were treated really badly in America and that by creating Bumbo, they weren’t just trying to be funny – they were also trying to make fun of people who were having tough enough time as it was.

I went back and forth afterwards, worrying that I’d been too knee-jerk uber-liberal, but I dunno. I’m still trying to get this parenting thing figured out. As my kids get older, explaining Planet Earth to them gets exceedingly more difficult.

Not too long ago, my dad and I were rummaging amongst some of the pictures and family artifacts he’d had passed on to him. One of these items was a flyer from the 1920’s for an evening of entertainment sponsored by an organization nebulously called “Our Selves”. Our Selves –what did this mean? A perusal of the evening’s agenda shed a little light on the connotation behind the name – Our Selves were hosting an ‘olde timey minstrel show’. Further reading of the flyer indicated that my great-grandfather emceed the event. It’s my hope that my son will be older when I have to explain this one to him.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

1997 Revisited (sort of)

In 1997 I had a stress fracture in my heel that required six weeks on crutches. Male injuries require causal stories of megalomaniac-like exuberant acts. Yeah, I broke my fibula biking off that cliff. My knee? Oh, I did this in that bar-fight with the Oakland Raiders back in that summer I was touring with The Stones.

My fracture had no such story. I was walking two miles a day in Manhattan toting about a laptop and audit files everywhere I went. While wearing a pair of unforgiving Johnston & Murphy shoes, my heel essentially let my body know it did not appreciate all this walking while hauling that extra weight.

Anyway, that same ankle had been feeling tight lately after I’d play my weekly pick-up soccer game. But after last night’s schmoz, it ballooned such that memories of 1997 came flooding back.

If you’ve never played soccer, I’d like to emphasize that soccer cleats are essentially ballet slippers with knobs at the bottom. Very little is done to cushion the pounding your feet take during the three or so miles of running which your standard 90 minute game requires. Come to think of it, it’s not unlike walking about Manhattan sidewalks in a pair of J&M’s.

When I reflect on 1997, I see so many things I wish I could recreate – oceans of spare time, disposable income, thick non-grey, non-receding hair. 1997 was also the year I met my wife and we whisked off to Hawaii for the first time. The stress fracture is most certainly dead-last on my list of 1997 highlights, yet here it is.

Two years ago, I had a slight tear in a ligament in the other ankle. It came right in the middle of when I was on a real roll – playing well, scoring goals. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling like Guy Who Sits in Cubicle. I had a swagger and it felt good to be good at something other than accounting and chasing after small children. I was raging against the dying of the light. And then pop. Next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground looking up at a circle of guys, all also in their thirties or forties, looking down at me. I could read their faces: Shit, glad that’s not me down there.

I remember hobbling off the field and then back to my car, taking a moment to turn and look back at the game that had continued without me. Driving home, it felt less like bad luck and more that something had been taken away from me. It wasn’t fair.

Then something happened that made all of this meaningless. A month after my ankle blew, my cousin Kevin’s wife died suddenly. He’s a teacher. She was a social worker, 30 and the mother of their twin toddlers. It wasn’t fair.

That whole winter, work started to implode on me. My bi-polar right hand (wo)man started a coup that dragged on for months until she eventually resigned. Everything felt like it was coming off the rails and all I could do was impotently watch things unravel. While waiting for my ankle to get better I found myself simultaneously fighting an intransigent, tenacious depression.

I was talking to my cousin Joe about Kevin’s ordeal. “Karma gets you nothing, I guess”. It was true, things seemed to blow up in such a way that I couldn’t help but admit that the universe was ruled only by random, senseless indifference.

Since then two summers have come and gone. My ankle healed, and I’d play soccer again. And now I’ve injured the other one. I think about what my friend Dave said when he picked me up off the ground after my injury from two years back: “You know when I blew out my knee, I took it as a wonderful opportunity to drink beer, eat pizza and smoke cigarettes.” Maybe that’s the key to life – in between the injuries we sustain amid the chaotic unfairness, we make the best of things anyway we can.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Insomniac Movie Reviews - Part 3

Director Terrance Malick's The New World was on IFC last night. Again we meet the story of Pocahontas and John Smith and aside from portraying an unsubstantiated romance between these two historic characters, the film does present what appears to be a very accurate portrayal of the Jamestown colonies.

Early in the film, the dashing maverick John Smith (Colin Farrell, of course) becomes separated from his comrades while searching for provisions. He is taken prisoner by the Powhatans and when presented before chief Wahunsunacawh, Smith's life is spared by the chief’s daughter, played with earthy elegance by the actress Q'orianka Kilcher.

Not only is Smith’s life spared, but his captivity becomes a sort of friendly coexistence with his captors. His days become filled with friendly, almost initiation-like excursions with his hosts. Most importantly, however, he and Pocahontas establish a connection that swelters into romance.

Considering the last big screen adaptation of these two was done by Disney, this film really could have gone off the camp cliff pretty quickly at this point. Instead, Malick beautifully uses a series of long, meditative sequences. The film departs into a dream-like phase where Smith and Pocahontas take long, quiet walks interspersed with moments either seated in the forest or chasely lying in grassy fields. With Kubrick-esque unobtrusiveness, the camera either floats around Farrell and Malick or simply rests next to them as they dreamily gaze off.

The soundtrack during these sequences is either taken from classical compositions or (even more refreshingly), the unaltered sounds of nature providing a beautifully textured auditory background.

But just as Pocahontas and Smith commit to one another, Smith is sent back to a Jamestown in complete deprivation and social disarray. He reluctantly now must govern the starving colonists who ultimately are saved mid-winter by provisions from Pocahontas. Their leader Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) arrives and Smith is sent back to England. Eventually Pocahontas emerges from the depression caused by Smith's departure. She then becomes the bride of John Rolfe played by an understated, refreshingly non-megalomaniac Christian Bale.

Despite the occasional colonist-native American battle scene, this is a very peaceful, meditative film that’s unafraid to simply allow viewers to open, quiet stretches of time with these characters. Amid the silence you find you’re brought into their rich inner world, especially with the numbingly beautiful Q'orianka Kilcher. It’s a rare treat to have a filmmaker who’s not obsessed with beating an audience down with plot and canned dialouge.

Two Thoughts on Tea

I heard this wonderful piece on NPR about the Tea Exchange in Mombasa, Kenya. I had no idea that Kenya exports more black tea than any other nation. The exchange upon which it is traded has a timeless air of decorum and tradition owing to its East Africa colonial roots.

_____________________________________

Switching gears towards the utter void of decorum, last weekend saw a large turnout in Washington D.C. due to the “Tea Party We Don’t Like Taxes or Government and Muslim Marxist Socialists Are Taking Over” thingy.

I have no problem when people voice their dissent about ballooning government deficits (or course…it would have been nice if they’d voiced similar outrage during the rapid government expansion from 2000-2008. But of course, during those years we were supposed to shut up, wear a flag pin and go shopping).

I guess I struggle with the whole concept behind this thing. I just think that if you’re holding up a sign calling for the abolishment of the IRS, in turn you should never do things like – I dunno - drive on an interstate. And while you’re at it, you should really take the magnetic ribbon off the Hummer that says you support the troops.

Check out some of these signs from the protest. Scary stuff.

Can we be honest here? When you’re claiming that the president is a Marxist Muslim, you’re not upset about healthcare reform are you? (Thank you Jimmy Carter for saying what needed to be said). And when you hold up a sign that says “We’re not armed…THIS TIME!” – you’re not looking to engage on a healthy debate, you’re looking to….well frankly, I don’t know what you’re doing.

My favorite tidbit from this aimless bag of unintelligible jackass? - Check out the guy holding the sign decrying President Obama for having “More Czars Than the Soviet Union”. (Pssst…the communist regime that established the Soviet Union killed the last czar so technically…the Soviet Union didn’t have any czars). Oh, those pesky books with their messy facts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pop Tunes, Summer Avenue - Part 2

Recently The Shelf has enjoyed a nice bit of traffic from readers in Memphis. This, of course, is attributable to The Memphis Flyer featuring my post on the Pop Tunes Record Shop on Summer Avenue. Now it appears as though the end is near for the original location on Poplar Avenue. Very sad.

It did give me a chance to take pause and eek out one last look at that closed Summer Avenue location. I’ve posted it below (courtesy of Bing Maps). Apparently Bing Maps (with its amazing “Bird’s Eye” view) was drawing upon an old satellite photo file. Here you can see the old store and more importantly, that Iconic sign:

BTW - I can't recommend The Memphis Flyer enough - here's a great article about suburban sprawl in the city.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lights

It’s Monday which means I played soccer tonight. Although I am nursing my usual post-game state of bodily disrepair, I'm satisified because our fall games have a different location…under the lights…on real grass.

That’s right. No more artificial turf until next spring. I hate that turf. This is perhaps the only matter upon which Beckham and I agree. “The next day you feel like you’re in bits!” Well said, Golden Balls. Well said.

Played my usual muck of central defender without much to note. Except...oh yeah - the lights never came on and we had to line up our cars to have the headlights illumniate the field a la Point Break. Odd tribute to Patrick Swayze, I suppose.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Another Mets Injury

If you're not a Mets fan, I'll give you the short version of what's happened lately - our all-star center fielder, our all-star third-basemen, our all-star shortstop, our first baseman (my favorite Met) and countless pitchers and other peripherally supporting team members have all fallen to injury. Our team is so depleted - I essentially spend my days staring at the telephone waiting for the Wilpon family to call me up, begging me to play.

As an aside, I got a phone call today from my wife saying that she was taking our son to the emergency room. Apparently the lad (was goofing around and) fell, causing some massive laceration to his elbow.

As my car was doing 85 mph heading to the hospital, it struck me.

My son's little league team name...for which he was an outstanding 3rd baseman? The Mets.

That's right. My house is plastered with photographs of the little guy in his orange jersey and blue cap. He's #12 and a standout player no less.

Whatever cosmic voodoo is floating about, it has now come to my home, perhaps drawn by the kinetic neurosis I project for this team. I can not be angry by what has transpired...it is merely a continuing exigence, something that clearly no one - not even the finest major league baseball physicians - can fight off.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Heart of the Game

Let me know if this sounds familiar - the game isn't what it used to be. There's no connection between players and fans. Clubs are just interested in money. Superstars have both egos and compensation that defy logic. Back in the day, it didn't cost an arm and a leg to take your kid to a game. There's no more passion. Rivalries don't mean anything anymore. It just ain't like it used to be.

Well, insert [sport of your choice] here, I suppose. Slimbo's Shelf readers might assume I'm set to launch into my hobby of obsessing on baseball. But the sentiments above are the grievances of Jimmy Greaves in his football (soccer) book The Heart of the Game. I picked this up when I was travelling through England last summer and I got it specifically because it's not available in the US.

Greaves is considered a national treasure of England. So this book is sort of like listening to Ted Williams (if he were still alive) rattle off everything he doesn't like about the state of the game today. You nod, smile at the old man and accept. It is what it is.

So what is the heart of the game? Well, according to Greaves it's a lot of things that congeal into that intangible magic that exists on a cool damp Saturday afternoon. Two teams take to the pitch and a cracking good show is put on by the lads. Everyone behaves themselves and the two sets of chaps give it there all. It's a working man's paradise.
- OK. Well, that's me pushing it a bit. Greaves is very frank in what he sees as maligning the game - there is a definite lack of Britishness in the English Premier League today. But he longs for a time that no longer exists. I feel for him. When Fox Soccer Channel benevolently shows fourth division teams playing in FA qualifying rounds, games played in wintery mudbaths of backwoods Britain, I cling to each moment. I know what Greaves is talking about. Tea, pies, team scarves, songs, crappy grounds burgeoning with adoring fans.
- I suppose it's fun to remember.
- My biggest takeaway was an observation that certainly echoes the state of sports in America. Greaves provides the following caption on a photograph of a massive joyous crowd from some anonymous team in the 1960's: "When a camera positions itself before fans today what we invariably see are clenched fists and snarling faces. In the early sixties supporters responded to a camera with smiles, laughter and whirling rattles."

1969 Mets - World Series Champions

Recently I was lamenting the current state of the Mets to my brother. He put it best: "I'm not sure what kind of curse follows the Mets at this point, but its removal requires something involving a dead chicken, a frog and a cauldron. Strangely enough, I'll bet any one of those things can be found in Corona, Queens."

Rubbing salt into the wound of this season is the 40th anniversary of the 1969 World Championship team.

Last week I was listening to an interview with Tom Seaver on WFAN. He beautifully described that intangible essence that champions possess. During spring training, 1969, as Jerry Grote would work with each pitcher, he kept approaching manager, Gil Hodges. "You know...we're going to win this year."

Here we see Grote six years later, wiser, mustachioed, perhaps wondering how Shea's magic has so dramatically evaporated into the ether.

The Mets' 1969 season seemed to be one endless game of inches and all the inches fell their way. Unlike today's team of injured blundering megastars, the 1969 team seemed a youthful bunch of overachievers and budding names who simply made no mistakes. Unlike today's team ,who seem to restrain themselves physically and emotionally, the 1969 team held each other accountable and simply refused to lose.

I wasn't even born in 1969. I can remember as a child feeling as though, like everything exciting and miraculous, it happened before my time and nothing down the road could replicate the 1969 Crown. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait too long: the bruising, boozing, brawling 1986 Champion Mets were just around the corner. The sordid personality of that team seemed fitting with the immeasurably flawed city that we love and call home.

But perhaps I hold the 1969 team in endless comparison with the 1986 team and as a result, they'll always seem even more pure, magical and miraculous.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Book of Evidence

A strong undertow within John Banville's 1989 novel, The Book of Evidence brings us back to The Stranger, The Talented Mr. Ripley or Crime and Punishment.

Freddy Montgomery had been living a low-life heir's existence on the continent. When he runs up significant debts, the shady men to whom he owes money decide to take his wife and disabled son hostage, so to speak.

Half searching for a solution, half looking to escape, Freddy returns to his native Ireland. There, he descends into a spiralling madness which culminates in Freddy's murdering an innocent woman while he attempts to steal a painting that once belonged to his now bankrupt family. Start to finish, The Book of Evidence is Freddy's detailed jailhouse testimonial of this atrophied descent.

As I processed the fact that Banville is Irish and that much of this novel would take place in Ireland, my mind wanted to align itself with certain preconceived expectations of the type of characters Irish fiction traditionally delivers. Perhaps we too often expect protagonists to be toiling yet noble, lovable yet flawed, brawling yet benevolent, simple yet poetically lyrical. Freddy Montgomery is none of these things.

(Again, this comes from the perspective of Slimbo's relatively shallow encounters with Irish fiction).

There seems to be a formulaic trend in popular Irish fiction - to use the now trite milieu of toiling lyrical soulfully aching working class next-door poets who'll portray the enduring human spirit and the over-arching ability for love to conquer tragedy.

The Book of Evidence wants us to see an entirely different Ireland. The Montgomery's are upper middle class inhabitants of a nihilistic world which easily implodes upon the death of its patriarch. The surviving Montgomery's exist in a state of suspended reality, demonstrating none of the grit nor moral groundings exuded by the beloved characters of the traditional Irish paradigm of my expectations. And it appears this causal flaw is irreparably aligned with the concept of class - a struggle I feel no other Irish writer has ever yet challenged me to engage.

This was a haunting, beautifully written book.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Return to the Bad Old Days?

Tonight in London, events transpired that The Guardian would describe as football "plunging back into the dark ages." A game played between two London clubs, West Ham United and Millwall was marred by widespread fan violence, a stabbing and on-field mid-match pitch invasions.

Violence among English supporters seems to date back to the birth of the game itself. Gratefully, when a pair of horrifically fatal episodes transpired in the early 1990's, the British government declared that enough was enough. Their investigations concluded that more security was needed at games, that football grounds were largely outdated and that all-standing terraces should be banned.

But amid these studies, no one seemed to be able to conclude on what is going through the mind of the average English hooligan when the trouble starts. The tribal dissonance between West Ham and Millwalll goes back decades. But since this rivalry's zenith in the 1970's, the fortunes of these two clubs have differed dramatically: West Ham have enjoyed the fortunes of England's top-flight league, while Millwall has wallowed amid the lower leagues. They've met a handful of times in the recent past and no real trouble has transpired.

Over the years, the violence which had long marred the English footie scene has been generally attributed to an amorphous working class discontent. Just as in America, the 1970's brought the death to sustainable middle class manufacturing jobs, accentuated by the toxic relationship between labour unions, business leaders and the bewildering all-knowing Oz that was Margaret Thatcher. Amid the madness, hooliganism provided some sort of release. We could look at West London today, mindful of the putrid state of our shared economies and blame today's events on some sort of global malaise.

American Bill Buford attempted to dissect this mystery in his book, Among The Thugs. While living in England, Buford latched onto various platoons of Manchester United supporters. I think Buford went into this endeavor believing he could provide evidence of a link between football violence and The End of the British Empire. I think he too readily believed that football violence was an outlet for unemployment and other such economic discouragements.

The problem was that as Buford befriended many of these so-called hooligans, he found that many had good jobs and were enormously likable people. What might appear to be unimaginable and incomprehensibly violent acts were a sort of hobby for these folks. Perhaps what happened today is not a statement of labour discontent. I suppose it is more frightening to see it as a nihilistic outlet similar to the one that the combatants sought in the film Fight Club.